Analysis comment

Johnson says Starmer ‘nothing to do’ with Savile decision – but is he right?

Starmer: no denial of involvement in Savile decision – nor naming anyone else who was – though FOI shows he was at least aware

After pressure from his own MPs rallying to Keir Starmer’s defence, Boris Johnson has climbed down from his Commons accusation that Starmer was personally involved in the decision not to prosecute serial rapist Jimmy Savile, claiming Starmer had ‘nothing to do’ with it. But can that be said with confidence?

The Full Fact organisation in 2020 published an article concluding that Keir Starmer ‘wasn’t the reviewing lawyer’ because none of the records that remain in existence mention him being consulted. However, the article also notes that:

the CPS said that records relating to the decision not to charge Savile were not kept, which the service said is in line with its data retention policy

So there are apparently no records to show that Keir Starmer had ‘nothing to do with it’.

And if Keir Starmer wasn’t personally involved in the decision, he knows who was. As Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) it’s hard to imagine that Starmer would not be consulted at least informally over a decision not to prosecute a household name accused of sexual assault by multiple victims. Alison Levitt QC’s investigation criticised the CPS for its handling of the case – and while Full Fact says her report did not say he was personally involved, it also didn’t name anyone else who was and Starmer was the head of the CPS at the time.

And Starmer at the very least knew who it was – and was part of a decision to veto the release of the information. A 2012 Freedom of Information (FOI) request asked for details surrounding the decision and the CPS dragged its heels so long that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled in 2014 that it had breached its obligation to respond in a timely manner.

When it eventually responded, it refused to disclose the information, claiming that to do so would be prejudicial to its future operations. But the ICO report notes that:

the CPS sought the opinion of the DPP on 17 April 2013. He provided an opinion on the application of section 36(2)(b)(ii) on 24 April 2013.

The report also notes that on that date, the DPP was Keir Starmer. – he didn’t leave the CPS until November of that year.

No denial, no explanation

Skwawkbox put the matter to Keir Starmer directly, via text message and email on Thursday:

Boris Johnson has withdrawn his comment about you making the decision not to prosecute Savile and has now said you had nothing to do with it. But he doesn’t know that, since the CPS deleted its records about the decision, claiming data protection reasons. What is on record is that you as DPP were consulted by the CPS on whether it should release who was responsible and the info was withheld. So either you decided it or you know who did. Please provide no later than 5pm:

1. Do you categorically deny making or participating in that decision?
2. If yes, why have you not said in the public interest who it was?

Mr Starmer did not respond, despite a deadline of 5pm that day for comment and a wait of two further days to allow time for a response, either to deny that he was involved in the decision not to prosecute Jimmy Savile nor to explain why he has never said who was.

Skwawkbox view:

Keir Starmer may not have been ‘the reviewing lawyer’ – the very specific language used in Full Fact’s conclusion. You wouldn’t really expect the head of the CPS to personally be the ‘reviewing lawyer’, but many people would expect the head of the CPS to be consulted about and involved in the decision – and the destruction of CPS records appears to mean there is no evidence that he was not.

Certainly there doesn’t seem to be any basis for concluding emphatically that he had ‘nothing to do with it’ and it’s bordering on unimaginable that the boss wouldn’t be consulted on or at least informed in advance on such a high-profile case .

And Keir Starmer has had now had at least one opportunity to categorically deny he was involved, or to explain why he continues to remain silent about who was. He has not taken it.

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